tv Tavis Smiley PBS April 5, 2012 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. jack abramoff spent nearly four years in prison before writing a memoir called "capital punishment." why the system isn't getting any better and what needs to be done to decrease the influence of money in the nation's capital. we're glad you have joined us, coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
[captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: back now with jack abramoff, his book is called "capital punishment we're trying to get into what he found themselves into with this cesspool that i call washington politics. a broken system where money and politics seem to be so intertwined in the nation's capitol. i closed the conversation by asking you what you were doing the lobbyists and why you got involved in the process.
from a political point of view, what was your endgame, politically? >> i was a republican, a conservative republican. one of the things was to bring more of the republican presence on the capitol hill. they had a project called the k- three project. i wasn't really a participant in the sense that -- at the beginning, i was a supporter of it, but not necessarily all the way through. we did a lot of work on college campuses, and one of the things that disturbed me was that we had no money. the executive director with a harvard mba paid $1,000 a month, the highest paid individual organization.
they were paid $100 a month. i would ask them to help us. we were being pro free market and for their interests. nobody would help us. i wanted to reorient the decade- street money -- the k-street money. those were my initial goals as i entered. tavis: to your point, the revolving door that you were a admittedly trying to make of all the little faster. this was the relationship that you had. when i got to the relationship that you had with them, you promised them a job, you knew
that they could make real money when they left capitol hill. we heard the president talk about this, saying that they were not going the hire lobbyists. recently, the campaign has done it. they are biding their own rule about lobbyists. i will let you tell the story of the relationship you had with chiefs of staff, you are basically writing legislation for them. tell me more. >> one thing is true and have little hill and major institutions, the staff is very important. it devolved or devolved in the ways of being a congressman and others. everything was fine. they are like many corporations. the congressman as the chair of
the board and you need to go to the congressman for certain things, but the staff from the show. that was evident in the almost immediately. i started focusing all the efforts on the staff. both in terms of dealing end in terms of hiring. when we talked about the revolving door, we wanted to shut the revolving door. i personally am building my practice. we wanted to come on board that we. i build a team of eventually 40 lobbyists that work for me. i noticed that once we made an agreement to, have them. they were flying anyway. they were doing things that even
my own staff couldn't think of. >> how about -- i heard your client may be included in this bill. in the congress. we were working for the lobbyists, and i am not the only ones doing this. we were one of the things -- 90 percent of what i did was legal. one can operate completely corruptly within the law. because the people drawing the lines of the law are the people benefiting from this on capitol hill. in this case, i would try to hire only chiefs of staff or legislative directors. i did it as a favor to the leadership because congressmen have, for the most part, in essence of entitlement. they were lazy, they didn't know how their own jobs and they
didn't know the process. i would hire chiefs of staff because my lobbying operation was a bunch of killers. we never lost. i didn't want lazy people on board. tavis: you were found guilty of what? >> i pled guilty to not informing my clients that the wreck as the regional organizations are recommended to them that i was sharing the profits of those organizations, that was fraud. i was obligated to do it and i didn't do it. i diverted that was money -- money that was due to me to charity. fraud.nd up being tax i provided the ongoing streams of goodies, meals, golf,
ballgames, to get them to do things for my clients. tavis: how does the last one and that being so prevalent in washington? >> the biggest problem there, i have this problem, too. at the end of the day, when somebody that wants something from the government, i don't mean a lobbyist as the fine, even the history professors that claim to be strategic of visors, when they or their clients is getting something -- is not talked about as a drive -- bribe. that is when you show it with cash and say here are $10,000 in cash, can you do this for me? that is not a bribe.
out of washington, everybody gets this. inside washington, that is what is done. we have institutionalized corruption in washington. that is where things need to change. tavis: if lobbying is legalized bribery, why do we allow it? >> most lobbyists are not engaged in this. most are trying to represent their clients by putting forth the merits of their arguments as a lawyer with in court. the problem is, since the playing field is tilted by the money, by those lobbyists like i was the have the capacity to bring resources to the picture, there is no way for them to win any of these arguments. but we never lost.
we never really went up against people that had anywhere near the resources we did. most of the lobbying was done there. 90% of them want to move to k- street. 90% want to be lobbyests, -- lobbyists. we need systemic change in washington, a foundational change. >> let's talk about some of those changes now. with this revolving door on capitol hill, how do we solve the problem? >> if you were somebody that worked on capitol hill, you can never go through the revolving door. it is -- which should make it for 10 years or 15 years. we have a joke, a one or two-
year layoff. the center will come off capitol hill and will be barred for two years for lobbying in the senate. he will call their body and say, listen, i can't lobby you. but my partner jack kemp, can he come up and meet with you? >> they get away with not even registering. the entire structure is ridiculous. after gingrich said he was a history professor, for the first time in my life, i went into the disclosure act to look at the definition of lobbyists. it turns out i am not sure i was a lobbyist at the end of the day. it is written with such loopholes, it is absurd. people are on capitol hill, they need to be barred from making that transition. it is the source of immense corruption. people resent it in this
country. they don't like seeing people that are coming in as middle- class folks and leaving as multimillionaires. people resent that. it is part of the reason congress is held in such low esteem. tavis: tthe law will cover more staff people and members of congress themselves. how tough can we be on members of congress? with specific regard to lawmakers, what are we missing about locking them down? >> anybody up there needs to be completely locked out. nobody is forcing you to be a congressman. i have never seen anybody taken to gunpoint on capitol hill to sit down and start working. you require a mental skills of their that are very marketable skills. how do your time up there, have your service, don't stay in washington.
go do something positive. tavis: last week, we did three nights of a conversation about women, children, poverty in america. part of that conversation, i can't quote the source. go to pbs.org to find the comment of president of -- she pointed to a study that i can't recall right now that finds members of congress, and the congress -- come into congress worth one amount, they leave 15 years later quadrupling their wealth. how is it they legally come in worth $200,000 and leave worth
triple or quadruple that? i want to know how to do this. >> there are a lot of ways to do it. tavis: legally? >> yes. they don't apply every law that they apply to us to themselves. that is the source of the number of them increasing their wealth, having their stock options. nancy pelosi was added by 60 minutes giving friends and family stock options. speaker hastert had property where they knew where they were putting infrastructure. multiplied that across the board. they are dealing with billions poured trillions of dollars. they are clever. there are many ways to do it,
too. they put all their expenses of the campaign payroll. some of the campaigns are funding incredible life styles. this is money they are raising to run for office. i wrote a piece about travel. one senator who wanted his own bottle of water when he went overseas. they did not like the water that they have for him. this comes from arrogance. i was completely against term limits. a lobbyist lets you buy congressional office, you don't have to buy that office.
you want everyone of them to stay there as long as they are. the fact is, most of these members, over time, become corrupted. a bag of cash somebody is going to give them, but in terms of the programs that are truly the most proper programs. all the lobbyists that give them the money over the years and ask for favors, it invariably happens. there was a congressman in 1994 before i became a lobbyist, the republicans took over with 52 new seats and a grab the house of representatives. the congressman from the south will not deal with lobbyists. money,t take money, pac etc. you write him off.
the next time he gets elected, i get a call from one of my staffers. i had more tickets to all the sports venues than anyone in town. i spent $1.5 million in tickets to get a congressman. i have these great seats for the wizards on the floor, like jack nicholson seats. jordan was playing that year. congressman zeliff selected take his son to the game tonight. you're making a mistake, he doesn't deal with this -- with us. he wants tickets for his son. ok, but i'm going with my son. he doesn't mind at all. there is this congressman six years before that city would never do any of this and the first thing he says, tell me about your clients. it always ends with, i am having a fund-raising event next week.
if that's not proof, what is? tavis: is it power, money, or time spent in washington? >> all three. it starts immediately. new congressmen come to organize the caucuses and the leadership. the first mission is to get reelected. that is what we need you to do. payoff your campaign debt, most of them have that. i remember being introduced and saying, what you need? tavis: you get your hopes in them before they even get there? a doctor before the swearing-in, that is when it starts. not all of them, some of them
resisted. but over time, usually they break down. tavis: i can't have this conversation without many of your republican friends that happen to be in the banking industry on wall street. if there is a revolving door, it isn't just capitol hill and k- street. give me your sense. i did not get as much of this is the hope to get in the buck. -- as i hoped to get in the book. of late, there has been much more conversation about wall street. is it really congress? is that the lobbyists? or can one make the argument that all these guys are beholden to this money? >> i did not included because i wasn't involved with them. it is republicans and democrats.
the problem revolving out from the congress into the industry. they use their political clout and that is exactly the kind of a bar that i think needs to be put in place. wherever you show up after you have been in capitol hill, you shouldn't be doing it if you're going to be using that on the street. you are not in the influence industry. my concern is that they use public service to basically read-influence through the influence industry. the are beholden to all this will street money, of both sides and give you this, how you get traction on getting this
fixed? >> i am working with a group called united republic that had made me a senior fellow there. there on both sides, and we take the approach that we would like to draft legislation, and we're working on it, that fits these things we are talking about today and make draconian changes in the system. napoleon had to launch a political campaign where people will be requested to pledge that they will co-opted this legislation, they will vote for it without amendment. we will try to move his bill through the process, and if they do this, they will not run for office again. tavis: why would anybody on capitol hill sign that? a doctor because of their challengers signs it, they can say the refused to pledge that
you won't take bribes, you want cash yen, and you will not come home. and you will not pass laws that don't apply to you. you were saying to us that you are so imperious and arrogant, you will take bribes, cash yen, do all these things? why would anybody vote for you? it gives the challenger is a weapon of the immense power. a lot of them will sign onto it, they will hate it, but america is sick of this. i have yet to encounter anybody outside of washington that things that any of these things make sense. everybody understands this. tavis: i take your point and i have had counter conversations about super pacs, where obama said he wasn't going to do this, chastised the supreme court, sitting there for their
decision on this and united. he says, i am not going to do it. he has gone 180. i'm not saying this to demonize him, but to get your point, everybody in defense of him says that he has to do this is because if he doesn't, he will that his clock cleaned by the republicans. then he can get serious about finance reform. what you're telling me is that the american people are sick of this, and i am saying they are not. if they were sick of it, they wouldn't be supporting obama playing the same game so that he can get reelected because he doesn't want the other guys to win. most americansk are playing the super pac game. tavis: but you talk to their
supporters. obama will raise $1 billion. >> i am an advocate for changing the system like term limits, but i am against anybody term limiting themselves until is the rules. unilateral disarmament is not going to get you anywhere. it is one thing to promise something, i don't know. what we do is get the laws changed. who knows? all we can do is try. i believe there is enough anger out there and people in the media, tv, print media, that are angry about this. i think that candidates can be embarrassed in deciding this, and our hope is that we find three republicans and three democrats were someone has signed it had someone hasn't.
for all those that care about them and defeat those who didn't sign it, it is only that which capitol hill understands they knew he could get more money. that is what americans need to do. tavis: a sad indictment. the book is called "capital punishment." his name is jack abramoff, i appreciate the work you're doing and i appreciate you being here for now. that is our show for tonight to end until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a
conversation with a west point graduate and a rock veterans that says the u.s. wants to toys peace over war. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. thank you.